Argue Themes in Two Poems Essay

Excerpt from Essay :

Harlem Dancer" and "The Weary Blues"

Times Change, but the Struggle is Still the Same

The Harlem Renaissance was a cultural and political movement during the 1920s and 1930s that sought to celebrate African-American culture through literary and intellectual means. Two of the era's prominent poets were Claude McKay and Langston Hughes. Their poetry helped to highlight the struggles that African-Americans were faced with. In "The Harlem Dancer," written by McKay, and "The Weary Blues," written by Hughes, the poets use music as a backdrop for the narratives of their poems. Although the blues, as music, are not limited to African-Americans, the style emerged from the experiences of African-Americans. Furthermore, the Harlem Renaissance sought to celebrate these experiences by bringing together the struggles of past generations and juxtaposing them with the struggles that younger generations were going through. "The Harlem Dancer" and "The Weary Blues" are depictions of the struggles that African-Americans underwent, although each poem's narrative is told from a different generational perspective.

Claude McKay was a Jamaican-American poet and writer who immigrated to the United States in 1912 ("Claude McKay"). It was during this time that McKay was exposed to the extreme racism that Blacks were being subjected to. Some of McKay's political views can be found in his poetry. In "The Harlem Dancer," McKay illustrates the disparity between social classes through the comparison of the singer and dancer and her audience. While the "[a]pplauding youths laughed at young prostitutes/And watched her perfect, half-clothed body sway," the subject of the poem is must sing and dance for their amusement (McKay, lines 1-2). In the poem, the singer/dancer is objectified and sexualized by her audience, however she does not seem to notice because she has learned to cope with the situation. For instance, the narrator notes that "[t]he wine-flushed, bold-eyed boys, and even the girls,/Devoured her with eager, passionate gaze" (lines 11-12). Her coping mechanism allows her to escape the confines of the nightclub that she performs
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in. The first two lines and the last four lines of the poem take place in the nightclub, whereas the third through tenth line describe the place where the singer escapes. In her oasis, "[h]er voice was like the sound of blended flutes/Blown by black players upon a picnic day" (lines 3-4). This description is the opposite of the nightclub environment; nightclubs are usually loud, smoky, and dark. While "[s]he sang and danced gracefully and calm/The gauze hanging loose about her form" the narrator is reminded of the way in which trees sway in the breeze (lines 5-6). The narrator, who has apparently seen trees swaying in the breeze states that the way that she sang and danced made her seem "a proudly swaying palm/Grown lovelier for passing through a storm" (lines 7-8). This description of the surviving palm, and its application to the singer and dancer, indicate that the narrator considers her to be a survivor.

Just like the narrator sees her transported from the dark nightclub, it is evident that the singer-dancer is not mentally present either. Even though gawking spectators and their escorts surround her, she stands alone on a stage for their pleasure. While they take her in with their "passionate" gazes, the narrator sees that she is just pretending to take pleasure in performing for them. The narrator states, "looking at her falsely-smiling face/I knew her self was not in that strange place" (lines 13-14). This further emphasizes that the singer-dancer was out of place in the nightclub and that she would fit in better elsewhere where her talents would be appreciated for the message that they are conveying rather than the way that she is conveying the message.

Langston Hughes was also a prominent contributor to poetry during the Harlem Renaissance. He is noted for his refusal to "differentiate between his personal experience and the common experience of black America [and sought] to tell the stories of his people in ways that reflected their actual culture, including both their suffering and their love of music, laughter, and language…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

"Claude McKay." Poets.org. Web. Accessed 2 April 2012.

Hughes, Langston. "The Weary Blues." Web. Accessed 2 April 2012.

"Langston Hughes." Poets.org. Web. Accessed 2 April 2012.

McKay, Claude. "The Harlem Dancer." Web. Accessed 2 April 2012.

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